Tail wagging the dog
Prime minister Imran Khan is a lucky guy. The kind of support he enjoys from various state institutions, his predecessors could only dream of.
He has everything going for him. Despite the tail wind, in the end analysis if he fails to deliver it is entirely going to be his own fault.
Unfortunately in the first few months of helter skelter governance, there is more emphasis on optics rather than substance. Admittedly for a political government, optics is equally important.
However the tail should not be wagging the dog. The vision that was expected from the PTI government is hitherto lacking.
Perhaps a perception of sorts, albeit not entirely positive, has emerged in the first 100 days. A scorched earth policy towards the opposition has become the hallmark of Khan’s government. His spokespersons use the harshest of language bordering on insult to malign the opposition.
To expect wonders from any government in such a short period is unrealistic. But a boorish attitude is no substitute for delivery.
The problem that afflicts the government is its consistent failure to stick to its message. Whether it is the economy, foreign and security policy or day-to-day governance the much-needed clarity is lacking.
Take the case of foreign policy. It has been the consistent policy of the past governments and the security establishment that the US should be engaging the Taliban to find a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio.
However the prime minister, re-inventing the wheel, believes that president Trump through his recent letter to him has finally come around to his point of view to talk to the Taliban. .
On the one side it is claimed that unlike the past the present government engages Washington strictly on the basis of equality. Khan’s recent statement that Pakistan won’t be a hired gun of the US anymore is welcome. But on the other we seem to be overly excited over a modicum of an offer of an olive branch from the US president.
On the economic front – not entirely the prime minister’s making – there is confusion worst confounded. The second devaluation followed by hiking the discount rate by 150 basis points during the past week sent jitters to the markets further destabilizing an already battered economy.
The real damage was done when the Khan glibly claimed that he was not in the loop about the impending devaluation and only came to know about it through news channels. The finance minister exacerbated the situation by claiming that the central bank did it on its own without informing the government.
Those in the know of things termed it as highly unlikely that the government was left in the dark about the impending devaluation. If it was a planned devaluation to meet IMF conditionalities it was done in a most crude and haphazard fashion.
Rumours about Asad Umar’s replacement have contributed to the uncertainty. Interestingly it is not the opposition that is baying for the finance minister’s blood; some of his own colleagues want him out.
Consequently Umar’s position as finance minister has become quite untenable. He has lost the confidence of his own colleagues as well as the perception game.
Half-baked ideas of the Khan have not helped matters either. His desi murghi and eggs theory has become the butt of all kinds of jokes on social media. But his spokespersons insist upon defending this dubious concept to no ends.
Similarly the prime minister’s sudden brain wave to demolish the boundary walls of the historic governor house in Lahore evoked a strong reaction amongst the ubiquitous civil society. Ultimately the Lahore high court had to come to the rescue by issuing a restraining order against demolishing the wall.
Interestingly it is not the opposition that is baying for the finance minister’s blood; some of his own colleagues want him out.
On the political front as well, the situation is quite dismal. The opposition simply not on board, no legislation has been moved in the parliament.
Instead of taking steps to rectify the situation, the prime minister has threatened to rule through presidential ordinances. Naturally this has evoked a very strong reaction from the opposition benches. PPP senator Sherry Rehman has even alleged that Khan wants to replace the parliamentary form of government with a presidential system.
This is a bit far-fetched. Even if the PTI has a penchant for a presidential system, it is simply not doable under the present political dispensation.
In fact harking back to the dictatorial era by legislating through presidential ordinances is really not an option for the government post the eighteenth amendment in the constitution. The opposition can simply undo such ordinances through resolutions passed in the Senate where it enjoys an overwhelming majority.
The only viable option for the PTI government both at the Centre and in the Punjab is to work with the opposition. But right now Khan is too busy branding the opposition as thugs and thieves, claiming their real place instead of the parliament should be in jail. The sooner he realizes the drawbacks of this highly flawed strategy the better for him.
Notwithstanding his vendetta against the former chief minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif the government has hitherto failed to nab him. Despite over two months of intense interrogation NAB (National Accountability Bureau) has been unable to file a reference against the younger Sharif. Now being put under judicial remand, the former chief minister’s lawyers are likely to move for his bail on health grounds.
The Army spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor referring to the prime minister’s recent interview in which he had claimed that the military supported the PTI’s manifesto, has rightly pointed out that the armed forces did not favour any single party, particular government or province. However it would have been much better if such a clarification had emanated from the prime minister’s office.
Whether it is the economy, foreign and security policy or day-to-day governance the much-needed clarity is lacking.
Nonetheless there is no gainsaying that the exemplary relations that Khan presently enjoys with the military establishment are unprecedented. He should make the most of it by getting things done instead of going around in circles.
The DG ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations) has appealed to the media to paint Pakistan positively for at least the next six months. Why for six months only? The inference is quite clear: the ‘fourth pillar’ is not doing its job properly.
Barring making exceptions in the name of the pervasive national interest it is the job of the media to give all sides of the picture. Ironically it is the PTI itself that through its various faux pas is contributing to the negativity. The media is only reporting and analyzing it to the best of its ability.
Once accompanying the late general Zia ul Haq while on a visit to Singapore, the military strongman told me that the media should emulate the example of Singaporean newspapers. Invoking the New York Times slogan, “All is news that is fit to print” he pontificated that this is what Pakistani newspapers should be doing.
Of course he meant that negative news should be kept out of the media. And who would decide what is fit to print? In his view, certainly not the editor!